- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

The third anniversary of the opening game of Vince McMahon’s football experiment, the XFL, was just two days after the Super Bowl.

How appropriate the two dates were so close together. After all, they had a lot in common.

The XFL did not last long, folding after one season. But its concepts live on in the NFL, as witnessed by the halftime show in Houston.

The XFL, with its scantily clad cheerleaders and sexual double entendres, seems downright quaint after Sunday’s spectacle ended with Janet Jackson’s exposed breast. It’s uncertain whether McMahon’s league, on its worst day, ever displayed partial nudity.

Justin Timberlake’s claim it was “wardrobe malfunction” that resulted in his tearing the covering off Jackson’s right breast was as comical as a World Wrestling Entertainment interview, and just as credible.

How ironic is it NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who looked down on the XFL with disgust and derision, is the one whose halftime show is now under federal investigation.

The commish called the show, which included sexually suggestive lyrics, crotch grabbing and other displays frequently seen in McMahon’s WWE shows, “offensive and embarrassing to the league and its fans.”

Of course, he has pleaded ignorance to the content of the MTV-produced show before it took place, as have CBS television executives. But he seemed pretty connected to what could be expected when the America Online (which now wants its money back) Halftime Show entertainment was announced in December. In fact, Tagliabue said the show was downright “important,” and it is difficult to believe he would not have been aware of what was happening with something he deemed important.

“The AOL Halftime Show is an important part of the Super Bowl and one of the most highly anticipated entertainment events of the year,” Tagliabue said in December. “We are pleased that a star like Janet Jackson will join the roster of entertainers who have made the Super Bowl halftime so special.”

It certainly was special, but not the way Tagliabue had hoped.

It also was a testimonial to the legacy of the XFL and McMahon, who may have gotten the football part of the XFL wrong but was ahead of his time — as usual — when it came to the marketing and entertainment of the sport. The NFL can’t figure out whether to embrace those marketing and entertainment concepts or ban them.

Terrell Owens and his Sharpie pen, Chad Johnson and his end zone signs and Joe Horn and his hidden cell phone — it’s pure XFL, and Tagliabue is now in a panic because his league is turning into McMahon’s vision.

It’s difficult to celebrate it. That halftime show had no business being part of the Super Bowl and there should be a certain level of outrage over the whole affair. Some critics argue too much is being made of the show and the appearance of the bare breast. The Super Bowl doesn’t mean a whole lot in the scheme of things, even though millions of dollars were spent by newspapers, television and radio all over the world to cover it.

Yet McMahon has earned his due. He wasn’t hypocritical like the NFL has been about the way it sells its product. If a kid was watching an XFL game and saw something inappropriate, there was no one to blame but his parents, given the expectations going into it.

Parents probably didn’t have the same expectations when they turned on the Super Bowl. They will now, though.

It didn’t have to be this way. U2 singer Bono had proposed he and Jennifer Lopez sing the song they recorded together last year, “An American Prayer,” which told of the African AIDS epidemic, at halftime. But the NFL rejected the idea, as a spokesman said, “We don’t believe it’s appropriate to focus on a single issue.”

Instead, all the focus is on a single breast.

Not even Vince McMahon could have pulled that off.

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